120-Day Report

November 2, 2011

Dear Colleagues,

Tuesday I marked my fourth month here on campus. The brilliant fall colors are still with us, but the first hints of winter are in the morning air, and I'm no longer getting lost on my way to meetings around campus. Willamette and Salem, once again, feel like home. 

The Board of Trustees met this past weekend -- my first meeting in my official capacity -- and their passion and enthusiasm for Willamette was evident in the high level of engagement I observed.  The meeting agenda included presentations by students and faculty, a visit to the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, small dinner groups of trustees and faculty from across all schools, and a lively discussion of accreditation, mission and strategic planning, topped off with a high-spirited luncheon with a couple dozen students from all four schools.  It is easy to see why Willamette's trustees were commended by the NWCCU evaluators for their knowledge of and commitment to all aspects of the university's well-being.

Welcoming the board to campus was an occasion for me to stop and reflect on my experiences thus far, and I wanted to share with you some of these reflections, as well as a few thoughts about what, with your help, I intend to achieve over the course of this academic year:

Since my arrival on July 1, my highest priority has been outreach to students, faculty, staff, alumni, the Salem community and Willamette's many friends and donors.  I have met with several foundations that are supporting our work or considering our proposals, including the Miller, Mellon, Luce, Teagle, Murdock Trust, Collins, Rogers, and Oregon Community Foundations, with additional visits planned over the next several months.  In addition to participating in Alumni Weekend and Family Weekend, I have met with the Willamette University Alumni Association board of directors and the CLA Parents Advisory Council.

Getting acquainted with Willamette students, faculty and staff has truly been a joy.  Opening Days at CLA and the new student welcome events at AGSM, GSE and the College of Law were terrific.  Since then, I have hosted small groups of students and faculty for dinner at my home and, by attending more than two dozen student events and activities, I have met hundreds of students across all schools. This has been among the most delightful and inspiring elements of my orientation and transition to the Willamette presidency.

Starting just prior to the beginning of fall semester, I have met with and spoken to large and small groups of faculty at their annual retreats and regularly-scheduled faculty meetings. The deans also developed other opportunities to acquaint me with the people and programs at CLA, Campus Life, AGSM, GSE and the College of Law.

Through the Administrative Forum and Classified Forum and President's Lunch Chats, I have had the pleasure of getting to know more staff as well.  The 'listening groups' -- small discussion groups of students, faculty and staff -- that I proposed in August are moving forward and will continue through March.  Thus far, they have proved to be a useful exercise in terms of helping me get a sense of the campus climate and culture, and I have appreciated the candor of the participants and the commitment to Willamette that has been demonstrated consistently.

Overall, I find morale among all constituencies to be strong and generally positive, and I have been welcomed with a spirit of collegiality and a sense of new beginnings and hope for the future.  The institution, although challenged by the same difficult economic conditions that beleaguer our regional and national peers, is in reasonably good financial health, and I am heartened to see that demand for a Willamette education remains strong, as exhibited by the increasing number of applications, especially to the College of Liberal Arts and the Atkinson Graduate School of Management.

That said, we have important work to do. The difficult 2010-11 budget year was less of a drain on reserve funds than anticipated, and the projected budget shortfall for the current 2011-12 budget year has been eased by the larger-than-expected CLA student enrollment.  But we continue to have sizable long-term fiscal needs that have been managed in recent years by deferring necessary maintenance and technology renewal projects. As we embark on our budget planning for 2012-13, we need to develop a plan for closing this gap over the next several years by increasing our revenues where possible and reducing our expenses where necessary.

Also demanding attention in the next few months is Willamette's NWCCU accreditation "Year One" report, due March 1, 2012, which will include a restructured mission statement that aligns our mission with strategic initiatives and goals.  This work is already well underway. I have asked the university's deans and faculties to develop, by the end of the 2011-12 academic year, specific strategic objectives for each college/school based on the 2010 Strategic Statement.  These objectives will identify short-term and long-term activities that advance the institution towards its goals.  Following that, the next steps will be to engage the Administrative Council, in consultation with the Board of Trustees, in devising facilities and finance plans in support of these activities and modify our internal administrative assessment tool, the executive scorecard, to help us gauge progress and effectiveness. 

Combined, these elements -- the goals, long and short-term objectives, facilities and finance plans, and the assessment tools -- will comprise the university's new strategic plan, which will be presented to the Board of Trustees for discussion and approval in October 2012.  As this process unfolds and advances towards the October finish line, I intend to consult with and update various stakeholders along the way, including students, faculty, staff and the Willamette University Alumni Association.

I look forward to working together towards a shared vision of excellence at Willamette.  


Stephen E. Thorsett

President ThorsettPresident Thorsett